Cold, Hungry and Stuck on the L.I. Expressway

Feb 10, 2013 by

The New York Times

Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Near Exit 60 of the Long Island Expressway on Saturday morning. Some areas of Long Island received over two feet of snow. More Photos »

By and VIVIAN YEE
Published: February 9, 2013

FARMINGVILLE, N.Y. — Lorna Jones decided to brave the blizzard on Friday, venturing onto the Long Island Expressway as the snow began piling up. So did many others here in Suffolk County.

Multimedia
Heavy Snow in Northeast
Huge Blizzard Buries Northeast
The Storm’s Tally
Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Cars stranded on Nicolis Road between Centereach and Selden, N.Y. More Photos »

They all came to regret it.

The snow and wind lashed their cars until finally they could drive no farther. And so Ms. Jones and others huddled in their cars all night on the expressway and its exit ramps, scanning the horizon, through ice-caked windows in hopes that plows would reach them.

“It’s terrible. It’s cold. I don’t know how long I’m going to be here,” said Ms. Jones, 62, a nurse who stalled near the town of Brookhaven, less than a mile from her destination. “Are there any plans to help us?”

She said she had slept fitfully in her car, with no food or water, and only a bottle of Listerine next to her on the passenger seat.

Though the storm wrought relatively little havoc in most of New York City, Long Island suffered a different fate. Some areas received more than two feet of snow.

By Saturday, cars were littered across the Long Island Expressway, some abandoned on the side of the road, their owners out of sight. Others were wedged on exit ramps, crossing traffic lanes and hindering efforts to plow.

“It was like a chain reaction,” said Mike Huebner, 39, a snowplow driver. “We’d have to help people or we couldn’t get through, and then we’d get stuck.”

Officials estimated that hundreds of drivers had been stranded or had abandoned their cars. The National Guard was mobilized on snowmobiles.

On Saturday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo went to Suffolk County to oversee the rescue effort on the Long Island Expressway and other major roadways. His aides said the state had deployed 300 snowplows to Long Island, and that more were on their way from other parts of the state.

Mr. Cuomo said no one had died on Long Island because of the storm.

“God was kind last night because it was a terribly dangerous situation,” he said. “Many people got very lucky.”

Mr. Cuomo defended the decision to allow the Long Island Expressway and other major thoroughfares to remain open. In Massachusetts, the authorities banned cars from the roads before the storm.

“We wanted to give people an opportunity to get home,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We didn’t want to strand people at work.”

He noted that the storm was forecast to be more severe in Massachusetts than in New York.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut reported that local authorities were grappling with similar challenges.

“One of the biggest problems we are facing is stalled automobiles,” Mr. Malloy said. “We are trying to dig them out and tow them away.”

He said there were several cases of people in cars who needed to be treated for hypothermia.

On Long Island, the clogged roadways were complicating efforts to restore electricity, with repair crews unable to reach disabled power lines.

The Long Island Power Authority, which was heavily criticized for its response to Hurricane Sandy, said about 35,000 customers had lost power during the storm. By Saturday, 9,500 were still without power. Some of the failures were expected to last several days.

The authorities on Long Island said they had prepared for the storm, but they said they were still startled by the scene on Saturday on the major thoroughfares.

Standing among unmoving sedans, pickups and United Parcel Service trucks, Steve Bellone, the Suffolk County executive, pressed a cellphone to his ear, straining to hear a report about the National Guard’s efforts to extract drivers.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Mr. Bellone said. “Snow came so hard and fast, it just swallowed people up.”

To the west, Franklin Simson’s 18-wheeler got stuck on an exit ramp as he tried to deliver corn flour to a tortilla bakery at 3 a.m.

He said he had called the police every two hours but had received no assistance. He tried several towing companies, but they all said they were overwhelmed, he recalled. He had heat in the truck and had slept for two hours, but had no food or water.

“I’m hungry,” Mr. Simson said, adding, “I want to get out, so I can get this delivery.”

Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting.

We welcome your comments!